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Tentacular Modernisms

  • Norris, Leah Faye
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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Tentacular Modernisms examines modernist literature and science fiction by women in the 20th century. Each of the texts in this interdisciplinary archive renegotiates the cultural divide between human subject and nonhuman object, critiquing human exceptionalism in terms of its patriarchal, capitalist, and colonialist ways of knowing and interacting with the nonhuman world. Invoking Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble (2016), I develop “tentacular thinking” into a literary praxis that identifies the often-overlooked critical insights of artistic precursors to contemporary feminist materialism. Whether these prescient authors contributed to Futurism, Surrealism, or early science fiction, they all portray nonhuman figures—tentacles, animated objects, utopian agents, and aliens—that model a transformative and reciprocal version of relationality. Their texts estrange the normative objectification of bodies that deviate from humanist expectations, challenging the cultural discourse that shapes race and gender. Science fiction writers C. L. Moore, Lilith Lorraine, Naomi Mitchison, and Pauline Hopkins and modernist writers Djuna Barnes, Mina Loy, Jean Rhys, and Leonora Carrington depict otherworldly close encounters that eschew the exploitative power dynamics associated with nonhuman contact.

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